The kimono sleeve came into fashion for ‘Western’ women’s clothing towards the tail end of the 1940’s when the exaggerated shoulders which had previously been fashionable began to evolve into a more natural silhouette. As women’s fashion entered into the 1950’s, the fashionable silhouette for shoulders continued to move away from the large padded ‘Power’ look of the 1930’s/40’s towards the extreme opposite. A trend for petite and slopping shoulders emerged, alongside the nipped in waists, waspy hips and doll-like everything else, as a reflection of the demure and ultra-feminine stereotype to which society largely expected women to adhere. The kimono sleeve often fitted the bill for this look, as its construction method emphasises a continuous line between the neck and arm, subduing rather than highlighting the shoulder.
Also known as the grown-on sleeve in some pattern cutting books, basically it is formed by creating the body of a garment and the sleeve from the same continuous piece of fabric rather than separate bodice and sleeve pieces with a seam line running along the top of the sleeve as well as underneath to join the back and front. A close fitting kimono or grown-on sleeve variation may also include a gusset panel under the arm. This is a diamond shaped piece of fabric which allows for ease of movement.
The kimono sleeve style became incredibly popular throughout the 1950’s and into the early 1960’s. Garments and sewing patterns featured a variety of lengths of kimono or grown-on sleeves, from the tiniest cap sleeve variation, to ¾ lengths and longer, with and without the underarm gusset; and as you can see by these images certainly looked a million miles from what many would imagine a garment with ‘kimono sleeves’ to look like!
This type of sleeve has re-appeared in women’s fashion but has never achieved the same level of popularity since that mid-century period. Because of this, I have always associated this sleeve style with that period which is also the era of dress I am personally most drawn to. Therefore, it has become one of my favourite vintage features and an element I look for when hunting for vintage patterns on eBay. Some sewers dislike this type of sleeve as the look and feel when wearing isn’t often as ‘tidy’ as a regular set-in sleeve. Personally, I love the smooth and elegant effect these sleeves achieve across the top of the bodice or blouse, particularly when combined with a high straight neck and dipped back.
As I say, I’m a fan. I recently deployed a vintage pattern that featured grown-on sleeves to create my Rockabilly tribute dress (pictured below). Gertie made a stunning job of a kimono sleeved blouse pattern by matching the gingham fabric perfectly along the sleeve seam. What are your thoughts on this type of sleeve or silhouette? Any successes or failures to report? Any fit issues that arose? We’d (well, I’d) love to hear!